By Hannah Reale
At a press conference on the Upper West Side last year, the mayor announced a crackdown on electric bikes, which are mostly used by delivery workers. He said the bikes, which are illegal to ride in New York City, posed dangers to pedestrians. But in the precinct where he was speaking — the 20th — there was only one crash involving an electric bike last year, and the only person injured in that crash was the rider, according to the NYPD.
At a Community Board 7 transportation committee meeting earlier this month, NYPD officials discussed crash statistics. Of the 58 reported bicycle crashes in 2017 (up from 46 in 2016), only one involved an e-bike—and in that particular incident, the rider hit a pothole, according to Sgt. Felicia Montgomery of the 20th precinct, which covers the Upper West Side from 59th to 86th Street. Captain Manuel of the 24th precinct, which covers the UWS from 86th to 110th, did not offer specific stats on the number of injuries but said “we’re not seeing a lot of collisions with e-bikes.”
“But it’s still a concern because when you talk about a motorized vehicle which can go at high rates of speed which is an issue for pedestrian safety so it’s something we take very seriously,” he added.
NYPD can now confiscate e-bikes, and de Blasio said he wants police to focus their fines on the owners of businesses that employ people riding e-bikes, as opposed to the e-bike riders themselves. A business employing delivery workers who use electric bikes can be slapped with a civil summons and $100 fines for a first offense and $200 fines for subsequent offenses. Bicycling advocates argue that the fines will invariably hurt the workers, who are often immigrants without the money to afford large fines.
Captain Manuel reported that 38 e-bikes were seized in the 24th precinct and Sergeant Montgomery said that 51 e-bikes were seized in the 20th precinct. Sergeant Montgomery explained that when the bike is confiscated, the summons is given to the e-bike operator. But those bikes often end up on the street again.
“People that work for, whether it’s UberEATS [or other] delivery services, they will go down to [the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings],” Montgomery explained. “If I take the bike tonight, they go down to OATH, pay the $500 fine. They don’t ask to go to court, they don’t ask for a court date, they pay the $500 fine and we’re mandated to give them the bike back because that’s their property. So a lot of the bikes that we take from the restaurants here, within 2 or 3 hours…they’re back in the precinct to pick up their bike.”
Some community members at the meeting said they felt the bikes are dangerous because of how quickly they travel. Last year, Council member Helen Rosenthal said at de Blasio’s press conference that her office gets frequent complaints about the bikes. “One of the top complaints we hear about in District 6 is about the electric bikes that ride extremely fast frequently in the wrong direction and without any lights or sound indication of their presence,” she said.
The NYPD’s legal bureau will be working with the 24th precinct in the coming weeks, upon the precinct’s request, to ensure that all seizures of e-bikes are lawfully performed, Manuel said.
Photo by beyonddc via flickr.